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When Hypocrisy Come Home to Roost – Who Be Blamed?
A few months ago I faced severe criticism when I warned of the hypocrisy in the way the Conservative Leaders of Northampton Borough Council and Northamptonshire County Council had raised objections, before the decision was taken, about the £50 million Rushden Lakes Development whilst at the same both authorities were represented on the board of the Northamptonshire Enterprise Partnership who are at the same time as objecting were actually promoting the development.
(Northamptonshire Enterprise Partnership – Northamptonshire At the heart of opportunity for business document)
Whether you agree or disagree with the Rushden Lakes Development it was perhaps understandable that both Councillor David Mackintosh the Leader of the Northampton Borough Council and Councillor Tim Hadland the Cabinet Member responsible for regeneration made a number of statements warning of the dire consequences of the development being granted on the regeneration of Northampton Town Centre.
Especially following the statement in May this year when only a fortnight after telling Borough Councillors that everything was on target for delivery in 2014, Legal and General stopped work on plans for the £250 million Grosvenor Centre siting that “we have not had the support of the Borough Council in recent times”.
A decision that caused confusion and had the Leader of the Council scurrying around trying to limit the damage of the Legal and General withdrawal when he said on BBC Northampton that “he would be demanding an immediate meeting with them to find out what is happening”.
Never was there a clearer indication that he and his administration had taken their eye off of the ball.
Since then of course we are told there has been fortnightly meetings with Legal and General with Borough Councillors being told last week that an “announcement by Legal and General is expected in January”.
This then brings us full circle to the impact of the Rushden Lakes announcement of support from the PM on the decision that is due to be taken by Legal and General?
Once the Planning Committee responsible decided that the Rushden Lakes should go ahead both the Conservative County and Borough Council ramped up the pressure to prevent it by supporting it being ‘Called In’ for independent investigation and seeking to have it over turned.
Which of course they are fully entitled to do given the fears that it would jeopardise the Legal and General investment in Northampton that incidentally isn’t being promoted by the NEP board on which Cllr Hadland sits but Rushden Lakes is, making the objections in conflict with the NEP position and promotion document that ends with the words,
“Now that you have discovered what Northamptonshire can deliver for you, your business and your customers, make your move and contact us today.
We want you to GROW with us, and be part of this exciting and prospering county!”
The major question now is what will be impact of the Prime Minister’s answer to a question from the Conservative MP Peter Bone on Wednesday when he said in supporting the Rushden Lakes project,
“It is this party and this Government that is getting behind economic development.. as we can see in Corby, it’s the Conservatives getting behind growth and jobs for the future..”
Putting aside the fact that Mr Bone apparently conveniently forgot that the Conservative controlled Kettering Council and his Conservative Northampton South MP Brian Binley along with the Conservative County and Borough Council’s objected to the development it would be understandable for the people of Northampton to ask,
When the Leaders of the Borough and County Council as they are so proud to repeat, went to see the Prime Minister in Downing Street was it more of a social call or did they brief him on the importance of Legal and General and the impact of the Rushden Lakes decision on the future regeneration and employment opportunities in Northampton?
If the Prime Minister wasn’t briefed then why not?
If the Prime Minister was briefed then why has he effectively overridden and undermined the independent review of the decision?
What has been the reaction of Legal and General to the support given by the Prime Minister to the Rushden Lakes development?
If Legal and General now use this as the reason to withdraw from the regeneration and redevelopment of the Northampton Grosvenor Centre what plans have the Conservative Borough and County Council to develop the Greyfriars Bus Station site?
What is going to be of even greater interest is how will the Conservatives explain that they have failed to deliver the single largest regeneration project in Northampton?
It has over the last 12 months become clear is that there is an even greater level of suspicion by major investors such as Legal and General a suspicion that will now be increased and understandably at Board level they may start to ask how can the Borough Council be saying they ‘support’ inward investment when they have both opposed and supported other developments during their negotiations?
It is the hypocrisy of taking up both positions at the same time that may well come home to roost and any complaint from the Leaders of the Borough and County Council’s will be seen for what they are, a hollow attempt to pass the blame.
The pity is that this has come about by the Northamptonshire Conservatives attempting to gain short-term political advantage in the Corby by-election which may well have a long-term and seriously damaging impact on Northampton’s regeneration.
If that happens the fault will lie directly and wholly at the door of the Leaders of the Conservative controlled County and Borough Councils.